Grigsby Lindenbaum is an art consulting firm that launched on January 1, 2014. Although the firm is brand new, it combines the talents of two veteran art professionals with over 30 years of experience between them–Laura Grigsby and Lisa Lindenbaum. WDA has been lucky to have known Laura over the five years she’s been sharing our office. Now, we’re pleased to warmly welcome Lisa.
Grigsby Lindenbaum helps individuals and companies select and display contemporary art for their homes and workplaces. Laura and Lisa believe access to art is essential: they describe themselves as art ambassadors, sharing their art world knowledge and connections in a relatable, non-intimidating way. They strive to help clients find pieces that both work in a space and hold personal meaning.
Laura and Lisa took different paths to reach their partnership. Although both started as art history majors in college, Laura worked as an interior designer for several years before returning to the world of fine art. Lisa started her career as an intern at Sotheby’s auction house before moving on to manage leading art galleries in San Francisco, New York, and Seattle.
We sat down with Laura and Lisa to talk about their new firm, art consulting, and the role of art in their lives. Read on for the full interview.
Congratulations on the recent launch of Grigsby Lindenbaum. Tell us how you got started as art consultants?
I became a consultant in a roundabout way, but found it to be a perfect fit once I started. I had studied art history in college, but gone on to a career in interior design because it was a creative field I was interested in with a clear career trajectory. At my first job as a designer I remember going to a lunch presentation by an art consultant and having one of those lightbulb moments. Flash forward seven years; I wanted to change careers. I was approached by an art company trying to build its consulting practice, and I jumped at the opportunity. It was sink or swim, as I had to learn a brand new field, but I figured out how to do it. From day one I loved being exposed to great artists and galleries from around the country. I think I’m better at what I do because I have a knowledge of art history, but learned practical lessons from interior design about how to run a project to best help clients through the process of looking at art, selecting it, buying it, and getting it installed. From my days as a designer, I understand the creative process, which helps me communicate with artists and clients in a way that’s not academic. I look back now and am so grateful that I love what I’m doing. I don’t take that for granted.
I followed a different career trajectory, although like Laura I struggled to find a practical path forward as an art history major. In college, I took an internship with Sotheby’s, which I suppose cemented my career in the arts. I loved living in New York and being surrounded by artists, galleries, museums, other art professionals. My first job was with a gallery on the Upper East Side. I loved gallery work because of direct relationships I developed with artists, which have meant a lot over the years. I became a gallery director, and then returned to the West Coast to manage a move of another gallery in Seattle. Then, I returned home to San Francisco to work at Haines Gallery, which was a place I had my eye on as a step in the direction I wanted my career to take.
And how did you form Grigsby Lindenbaum?
Laura was a client at Haines Gallery, and we intersected several times and always worked well together.
As a consultant, I really liked that gallery–the artists, relationships, programs. I would call Lisa, and she would help talk through client needs and develop relationships with the artists she represented.
Lisa, how’s it been to switch career roles and take on an ownership interest in a business?
I knew I wanted my next step to be to something with the potential for a long trajectory. I don’t think I’ll ever be bored doing this, because there’s so much learning involved! I always loved that energy of growth in galleries, where you’re working with 20 to 30 artists, but to explode that open to the whole world of contemporary art is amazing. It’s a bit overwhelming at times, thinking about how I’m absorbing that material and presenting it to clients in a cohesive, coherent way, but that’s a challenge that really excites me.
How do you start a project with a new client? Is there any one thing you would tell someone buying their first piece of fine art?
With contemporary art, there is no right or wrong answer. I like to take that pressure off clients from the start, and give them permission to just spend time looking at, and reacting to, art. I also believe it’s important begin with a conversation with a client, to get to know who they are. Over the time we work together, we’ll continue talk about aesthetics, how the art is made, the artist, what the piece is made of, our reactions, the clients’ reactions, the price, how the piece fits into the history of art. As art consultants, we are ambassadors to the world of fine art: our primary focus is helping clients buying art who don’t quite know how to go about it and need some guidance. Art means something different to everyone, so our conversations are so valuable as they inform us about each client’s parameters.
Keep an open mind. You’ll surprise yourself. The more educated you get, you may end up with something totally unexpected. Maybe you went in thinking of a landscape painting, and you end up with an abstract drawing. Contemporary art can sometimes seem intimidating, so I try to talk to clients in a way that makes sense to them, without using “artspeak.” I love drawing connections for clients to help them define their aesthetic and build a collection that is meaningful.
Laura, you’ve been sharing the WDA office for 6 years now. Since you know us well, is there a piece of art you can see in this space?
I wish there were more walls for art here! I love having a Pamela Jordan painting here for now. I think her work is terrific. It’s abstract painting, and it has a gestural quality that I respond to. Her work seems fresh, and not derivative, and there’s a real confidence to it because you see each stroke and the linen that she’s painting on. So she’s not hiding anything. To me, those who paint on linen are artists‘ artists–it’s an homage to what’s gone before. Way back in the history of art, before they used canvas, people painted on linen. The color is evocative to me of the outdoors, the natural world, and landscape, even though the work itself is non-representational.
Lisa, is there an artist you’re gravitating towards right now?
I really like Ruth Laskey, who won a SECA award in 2010, and graduated from California College of the Arts. She started out as a painter who worked intensely with trying to rectify the paint with the surface, and what that relationship was about. She decided to investigate the paint/canvas interplay literally, by weaving abstract shapes into the canvas. They’re really wonderful.
Also, Kota Ezawa is an artist I worked with closely at Haines Gallery. He takes seminal moments from popular culture and art history, digitally redraws them, and pares the visual information down to the bare minimum. He’s best known for a video representation of a reading of the O.J. Simpson verdict. He’s interested in memory, how one processes information. I look at art as a marker of place and time, and his work is literally about that.
Volunteerism and giving back is very important to WDA. Laura, you went to Haiti to build homes with Habitat for Humanity, where you met and dined with President Carter. Tell us about that trip.
It was right up there in terms of life experience. I’ve spent a lot of time over the years volunteering for projects related to shelter and housing; I feel like giving back in that area is really important. I got so much out of being in Haiti, working with the other volunteers, seeing the homes built. It was truly rewarding. President Carter is so impressive on so many levels. When he stood to address all of us, his command of the facts, figures, and information is incredible. He can explain complex issues in a way that’s easy to understand and feels relatable. He and his wife Rosalyn do such good work in terms of public health, world peace, housing.
Congratulations to Grigsby Lindenbaum on the strong start of your collaborative venture, and we wish you great future success in introducing individuals to fine art.